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'It's a trick question.' — Alex Woodward, staff writer 

click to enlarge Alex Woodward as a teenager.

Alex Woodward as a teenager.

  It's a trick question. Those who don't care wouldn't ask it. Answer "yes" and I'm met with a follow-up question, and depending on the temperament of the person asking, the answer is likely to produce a smugly raised eyebrow or a look of relief — "He's one of us."

  But saying "yes" would be a lie. I moved to Louisiana from California in 1998. My dad, a chef, took a job in New Orleans, and my mom and I followed. I was 12. I dug in my heels — I didn't want to move. Before that I lived in two other states. My parents aren't American. The rest of our family lives thousands of miles away.

  Before my parents settled on a house 30 minutes outside the city, we spent a few weeks in the summer camped out in a hotel room downtown. New Orleans was the most alien place I'd ever been. Humidity made the air sweat. Fried seafood erupted from every plate. People spoke in tongues. My dad bought me a Zephyrs cap and I pulled it over my head for months. I ate bread pudding at every meal I could. It was vacationland all the time. It didn't feel like home — at least not yet.

  I can answer "where did you go to school?" and can even answer it with the hat trick of my college, high school and middle school alma maters — but that never defined for me what it means to live here. Anyone can live here, especially if by default, by circumstance. It wasn't until I made my own decision to live here — when hundreds of doors had opened for me to start over elsewhere — that I felt "from" a place. I didn't just go to school here. It's also where I learned to change a tire (during my first date, in Fat City). It's where I played my first gig (on St. Claude Avenue, which I probably lied about to my parents). It's where I had my first big, snot-faced break-up (on a rain-soaked bench at Audubon Park). That's not just nostalgia. Wherever I go from here, nowhere else can give me those moments.

  I have a birthplace, which I only barely remember, and I grew up on the other side of the country, which is now as foreign to me as outer space. New Orleans is home. The next city or country may be, too, but whoever asks will know where I'm "from," even if it's a long answer to a trick question.

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